TOKYO - Sales of European cars in Japan grew in the first three months of 1997, but fell off after the consumer tax was increased from 3 percent to 5 percent in April.
European sales in the first nine months were up just 1.9 percent compared to the same period last year. The overall market fell by 1.4 percent in the first three quarters. Total imports were down by 11.8 percent.
Volvo and Opel have suffered most this year. Sales are down 19.0 percent and 5.3 percent respectively.
September was a bad month for some European brands. Volkswagen-Audi sales were down 22.8 percent. BMW was off 35.0 percent. Meanwhile Mercedes-Benz increased 20 percent and Opel sales rose 29.9 percent during the month.
Mercedes Japan spokesman Olaf Meidt said the September increase does not reflect the company's overall sales trend in Japan.
'We may have delivered some extra cars after the summer months,' he said. 'Overall growth of 3.4 percent this year is the realistic figure.'
General Motors Japan President Douglas Herberger said Opel's September increase resulted from special incentive programs by its Japanese distributor, Yanase & Co.
Akio Seki, managing director of BMW Japan, said he is 'confident that we will end the year with 4.5 percent growth.'
Rover sales are up for the year. 'We founded our own sales organization in 1985 and that has paid off,' said Peter Woods, president of Rover Japan. Rover sold 1,500 cars in 1985 and will pass 30,000 this year.
Porsche sales have grown sharply since the introduction of the Boxster in the summer.
Sales are expected to reach 2,400 in 1997, up from 1,756 last year. Porsche's long-term target is 4,000 cars, said spokesman Michael Schimpke.
Ditmar Fuetterer, export manager at Fiat Auto in Turin, said Fiat sales have grown from 1,000 in 1994 to an expected 7,500 this year and 9,000 next year. He said 60 percent of Fiat group sales in Japan are Alfa Romeos.
Jaguar expects to sell 2,700 cars this year, an increase of nearly 10 percent.
'We're doing better because our quality has improved,' said Jaguar Japan President David Brown.
Jaguar had a slow start but sales rose 68 percent in September with the availability of the new XJ V-8s.
Sales of French cars in Japan are small - 7,530 cars through September, down 4 percent. But Peugeot is confident about the future. Peugeot sold 4,750 cars in 1996 and targets 6,000 this year.
'Within five years,' said Olivier Thrierr, manager of Peugeot's Japan-Pacific Operations, 'we want to reach 15,000 cars.'